Namaste: If Not Now, When? Chapter 21 Pain And Suffering

Author’s Note: Each chapter of this book can be read as a stand-alone and it is not necessary that they be read in numerical order. All of the previous chapters are posted here in my Diaries at Firedoglake/MyFDL.

I welcome comments and will respond as time allows. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 21

Pain and Suffering

Siddartha Gautama was born into a ruling family of wealth and privilege in southern Nepal, India in approximately 463 BCE. According to legend, he was an extraordinarily gifted child who could walk and speak in full sentences right after he was born. He told his mother, Mahamaya, that he had come to free humans from all suffering.

His father, King Shuddodana, wanted Siddartha to succeed him and become a great king. Shuddodana consulted the preeminent soothsayer, Asita, and asked him to foretell Siddartha’s future. Asita told him that Siddartha could become a great king, possibly an emperor, or he could become a great sage and savior of humanity.

Shuddodana was opposed to the future behind door number two, so he devised a plan to hook Siddartha on the good life and shield him from the poverty, pain, and suffering in the world.

Growing increasingly bored with the good life in his father’s three palaces as he matured into a young adult, Siddartha decided to go on a great adventure exploring his father’s kingdom and getting to know the people his father governed.

Shuddodana knew this day eventually would come and he was ready for it. He carefully arranged to have Siddartha escorted around the kingdom so that Siddartha would not see the suffering that he feared would cause Siddartha to reject the easy life and take up the religious life. He ordered Siddartha’s escorts to make certain that Siddartha only encountered and interacted with young and healthy people.

Alas, it was not to be. Synchronicity intervened in the form of two very old men who wandered within view of the parade route and Siddartha spotted them. He was shocked because he had never seen old people and being a curious young man, he bolted from the choreographed tour and took off after them. Along the way, he also encountered people who were severely ill, a corpse, and a funeral with grieving friends and relatives. All of these encounters disturbed the young prince.

Siddhartha also saw an ascetic, a monk who had renounced all the pleasures of the flesh. The peaceful look on the monk’s face would stay with Siddhartha for a long time to come. Later, he would say this about that time:

When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be dead some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with life anymore.

(AN III.39, interpreted)

At the age of 29, Siddartha rejected the good life, kissed his wife and son goodbye, and left his father’s palace to become a monk and embrace his destiny as the Buddha.

He developed the Four Noble Truths to explain the roll of stress and suffering in life, which he called dukkha. Instead of regarding suffering with loathing and dread, he realized that, viewed from a proper perspective, suffering is but a signpost on the road to nirvana or enlightenment. He taught humankind that anyone can live a holy life and attain nirvana through liberation from suffering and practicing compassion.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism state:

(1) the nature of suffering;

(2) its cause;

(3) its cessation; and

(4) the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to its cessation.

The Noble Eightfold Path consists of:

1. Right view or perspective.

Pain is a physical reaction to a stimulus that can vary in intensity. Suffering is a mental process and the Buddha taught us that the right view to have about suffering is to ask oneself what it teaches us about ourselves. Suffering involves karma. That is, wholesome actions will produce wholesome results and effects whereas unwholesome actions will produce unwholesome results and effects. Craving causes suffering, which is impermanent. Therefore, the right view of suffering is to understand that it arises from karma and craving.

2. Right intention is to aspire to rid oneself of qualities one knows to be wrong and immoral while committing to the spiritual path; good will; and a commitment to non-violence, or harmlessness, towards other living beings.

3. Right speech means speaking the truth, abandoning divisive speech, and using words to heal rather than wound.

4. Right action is to do the right thing by acting morally and ethically. Acting with right view or perspective, right intention, and right speech is another expression of the Golden Rule.

5. Right livelihood is to avoid engaging in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.

6. Right effort is to persist in abandoning all the wrong and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds while doing good deeds that are useful to themselves and others in their thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought for the difficulty or weariness involved.

7. Right mindfulness is constantly keep their minds alert to phenomena that affect the body and mind.

8. Right concentration is practitioner concentrates on an object of attention until reaching full concentration and a state of meditative absorption or jhana.

Traditionally, the practice of samadhi can be developed through mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), through visual objects (kasina), and through repetition of phrases. Samadhi is used to suppress the five hindrances in order to enter into jhana. Jhana is an instrument used for developing wisdom by cultivating insight and using it to examine true nature of phenomena with direct cognition. This leads to cutting off the defilements, realizing the dhamma or dharma and, finally, self-awakening.

A common complaint that we have all heard many times and some of us may even have used to argue against the existence of God is to claim that there would not be any pain and suffering in the world if it were created by a perfect and loving God. Surely, they say, a perfect and loving God would not have allowed the Holocaust, for example.

This argument ignores free will, however, which, as I have said, is God’s greatest gift.

A warrior knows that each of us gets to decide what we are going to believe and what we are going to do. A warrior embraces free will and accepts full responsibility for every decision he makes. He thanks God for the opportunity to experience life and live it fully without interference from a Creator who cannot let go. He knows that physical pain is a warning system to preserve and protect the body and he knows that mental suffering is only a thought. Instead of indulging and wallowing in mental suffering, he assumes responsibility for his mental state and changes his perspective.

Gautama Buddha was an impeccable warrior and his insights and perspective on suffering serve as an excellent example of accepting responsibility for himself and using free will to change his perspective on suffering from victim to empowered seeker.

Free will does not exist if we are only free to choose to do good things. Therefore, our task is to choose wisely.

Gautama Buddha taught us that all suffering originates in ignorance, and if we practice dharma by following the Noble Eightfold Path, we can overcome our own ignorance and protect ourselves from suffering.

Cross-Posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and the Smirking Chimp.

Namaste: If Not Now, When? Is my intellectual property. I retain full rights to my own work. You may copy it and share it with others, but only if you credit me as the author. You may not sell or offer to sell it for any form of consideration. I retain full rights to publication.

My real name is Frederick Leatherman. I was a criminal-defense lawyer for 30 years specializing in death-penalty defense and forensics. I also was a law professor for three years.

Now I am a writer and I haul scrap for a living in this insane land.




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